TBS Diary: Melting In Cincy
James: The heat finally hit us in earnest today, and Next Gen said “I'm good, luv. Enjoy.” Upsets abounded -- although not all of these were technically upsets based on the rankings -- with Sharapova falling to #2 Barty, and Azarenka going out to the rising Donna Vekic. Even Shapovalov losing to Pouille wasn’t technically an upset, despite the always ample news coverage of Shapo making it seem like his fortunes should be trending higher. One Next Gen-er who did prevail was Andrey Rublev, who is emerging from a wicked slump and beat Stan Wawrinka today.
Alexander Zverev kept intact his winless record in Cincinnati, losing to Serbian teenager Miomir Kecmanovic in 3 sets. (To be fair, Kecmanovic was an Indian Wells quarterfinalist this year, and is coming off a great win against Felix Auger-Aliassime this week.) Zverev’s terrible record here becomes more surprising the more you think about it, especially knowing that he’s won titles in humid Montreal and Washington, D.C.
Jonathan: I was COOKED today. I spent so much time in the direct sun on Court 10, my happy place. I was determined to get a tan, and it’s my absolute favourite court; hopefully the sun screen I applied will leave me in good shape come tomorrow. But, wow, the CARNAGE! I started with a very wild Azarenka on Court 10 vs Donna Vekic. I had high hopes of a rematch of Auckland with Venus Williams, but alas it’s not to be. Vika looks to be in great shape, but she’s been suffering from a serious case of overhitting in the last few months. To Vekic’s credit, she was solid from the jump. I was super impressed with her first serve and how she was able to place it wherever she wanted.
As it stands now, we will get Venus vs Vekic tomorrow (not before 1pm) on Center Court. They’ve played once before, three years ago at Wimbledon, with Venus winning in three sets. Where did you start your day?
James: I too started with Azarenka-Vekic, though after waiting outside the court through a seven-deuce game I was tempted to bolt. Vekic was simply too solid and too strong on serve for Azarenka. Vika is back with Wim Fissette, but I have to wonder what level we can expect from her going forward.
I bounced around all day, checking out Kuznetsova and Ostapenko’s practices, a few games of Wawrinka losing to Rublev, and a bit of Barty-Sharapova. I quite enjoyed the first set of Osaka-Sasnovich, which was on my favourite Cincinnati court: the Grandstand. It’s not fancy; it’s utilitarian, it’s usually easy to find a seat, and there are a lot of short corner rows that allow you to sit alone (lol). Naomi was scratchy in that first set, looking alternately brilliant and wildly inaccurate. She and Sasnovich both hit some beautiful serves, and also hit plenty of groundstrokes that flew out by feet rather than inches. Sasnovich was close to snatching the first, did take the second, and managed to stretch the new world #1 to over 2 hours in the heat.
Now there’s one marathon match in particular I know we both want to talk about … any ideas, Jonathan?
Jonathan: Ahhhhhh!!!! Svetlana Kuznetsova, visa in tow, has beaten Vekic (last week in Toronto), Sevastova, and now Yastremska since being given her wings to fly again on the WTA Tour. I’ve seen Sveta play so many times on Court 10 over the years, and it’s almost always something really good. Today was no different. It was also my first live viewing of Dayana Yastremska, who has oodles of power. It was the first time Sveta played her, and she looked to be thrown off and on the back foot by the Ukrainian’s power game in the first set. Sveta being Sveta, she saved two match points in the second set, eventually prevailing over a hobbled Yastremska in the end. By the latter stages of the third set, Sveta was ripping winners all over the place, and it was a sight for sore and sun-drunk eyes. We hope to maaaaaybe interview her tomorrow, which would be a full circle kind of moment, as she was one of the very first guests on The Body Serve way back when.
James: Sveta has been producing magic this week, enduring through two grueling matches against higher ranked players. Well, almost everyone is ranked higher than her right now. You'd be forgiven for expecting Kuznetsova to be in less than optimal shape after such a long break. You'd also be wrong. She is fit and she is mentally sharp. I chuckled when she finally gave in and changed out of her sleek "SK" black dress, as if refusing to acquiesce to the beating sun. In Toronto, Sveta alluded to some things going on in both her personal life and career, in addition to those visa problems. She's pleased to be back on the court, and she insists that winning is only a bonus. With a US Open wild card secured, she could definitely wreak some havoc in Queens.
Havoc is the watchword for Sloane right now. She lost her first set to the always dangerous Yulia Putintseva on Center. Having leveled the match, she's down an early break in the decider. Her compatriot Frances Tiafoe also lost the first set against his opponent, the almost obscenely reliable Roberto Bautista Agut. Frances just lost an error-strewn third set and follows his Next Gen brethren out of Mason.
Jonathan: Your Sloane hex didn’t work! Stephens overcomes Putintseva -- and the longest mid-match outfit change ever -- to move into the Round of 16. Also, I’m pretty sure the kit Sveta changed into was the same one but in a different colour. I loved them both! Anyhow, back to earlier, I popped into Tsitsipas vs Struff right when the Greek young’n seemed down and out in the second set. He told us in his All Access press that he was pretty tired, and it kind of showed on court today through most of the first two sets. It took a coaching warning for Tsitsipas (with Struff serving for the match) for him to turn things around. The crowd swelled in attendance and vocal support for Tsitsipas, but alas he succumbed in a third set tiebreak.
What’s on the docket for tomorrow?
James: Well. I’m glad you asked. I’m glad to see Venus Williams vs Donna Vekic on Center Court during the day. Venus will have another tough test in the heat. Novak will play the night match this time (vs. Carreno), switching spots with Roger, who will play the final day match on Center (vs. Rublev). The real news is the bizarre and downright confounding scheduling on the outer courts. World number 1 Naomi Osaka has been relegated to Court 10 -- a beautiful court though it is -- against Casual Queen Hsieh Su-Wei. Court 10 is the clear #4 court at the Lindner Family Tennis Center (in size, at least), and wait until you see who has taken precedence over the current owner of 2 major titles: Schwartzman-Gasquet are first up on Center (huh?), and Kecmanovic-Bautista are on Grandstand. I was also surprised that Kenin-Svitolina are the second night match on Center over fellow American Keys vs. Wimbledon champ Simona Halep.
But you didn’t ask about court assignments, did you? As far as matchups, I’m looking forward to Sloane-Sveta, Sabalenka-Sakkari (!), and especially Osaka-Hsieh. Osaka clearly loathes playing Hsieh.
Jonathan: I just left Sloane Stephens’ press conference and wow did she not mince words about playing Putintseva. To quote Ms. Stephens: “If it’s not one scam, it’s another.” And that wasn’t even 1/10th of what she had to say on the matter. There will definitely be more coverage of that to follow, lol.
But, back to tomorrow, I co-sign everything you said. Bravo.
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